‘Captain slept on – so night-watch went to bed’

Socorro Vortex liveaboard stranded on island
Run aground: the Socorro Vortex (SPA Informa)

Divers and crew of the Pacific Fleet liveaboard Socorro Vortex were forced to take to a life-raft when the vessel ran aground near Socorro in the eastern Pacific on 9 May, as reported on Divernet. But now more details of the incident have emerged.

The liveaboard had made the 110km crossing overnight from Roca Partida, another of Mexico’s remote Revillagigedo islands, but hit Socorro while still at cruising speed as not only its divers but, it seems, its captain and crew were all asleep. 

According to a witness quoted in the US diving periodical Undercurrent, it turns out that the night watch had been abandoned when a crew-member failed to be relieved at midnight – so simply decided to take to his bunk.

Technical-diving instructor, underwater photographer and dive-shop owner Marissa Eckert, who runs Hidden Worlds Diving in Tulum, told Undercurrent that the captain had set the boat on autopilot, with one crew-member assigned to be on watch from 10-12pm.

However, as that crewman would tell the divers “several times” following the incident, “no one came to relieve him, so he just went to bed”.

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“The captain was supposed to relieve him but was apparently asleep. It was the crew-member’s first time on the Vortex working, and he went to bed at midnight and left the boat cruising at 16 knots straight toward Socorro,” said Eckert. “No one was awake.

“At 1.58am, we crashed headfirst into a very tall rock wall on the side of the island, throwing us all from our beds. It trapped at least one couple in their room on the lower deck. 

“Then the current, strong tides and winds turned the boat and started bashing it into the rocks. We lost power because the lower deck was flooded in less than 30 minutes. 

Captain was asleep - rescued divers arrive at navel base
Guests and crew arrive at the naval base (ENSAR)

“All 25 of us abandoned the ship into one life-raft and continued to be bashed into rocks in the life-raft until the Mexican navy saved us.”

The 43m Socorro Vortex was a total loss, as were the occupants’ possessions, but there were no serious casualties and the guests later praised the “exemplary conduct” of the crew after the impact. 

Personnel from the local Naval Station for Search, Rescue & Maritime Surveillance (ENSAR) responded to an emergency call and picked up the 14 guests, including two British divers, and 11 crew.

The liveaboard, a former Canadian Coast Guard vessel, joined what was at the time Pelagic Fleet in 2019. Rebranded Pacific Fleet, the operator also runs the Solmar V and the SPOC (Self Propelled Ocean Cage). It is unclear whether any disciplinary action was taken following the Socorro incident, but Divernet has approached Pacific Fleet for comment.

In the USA the continuing investigations and fall-out from the Conception tragedy in California, in which 34 divers died on a moored liveaboard in 2019 while the captain and crew all slept, have underlined the necessity of having a roving onboard watch at all times of night.

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Karen
Karen
13 days ago

If this is true, it is a breach of Maritime Law, where a passenger ship must have an officer on duty at all times whether underway or not. I know this rule was followed when I was aboard the Socorro Vortex at Guadalupe Island in October, 2021. I’m an insomniac, and went exploring a couple times.

I question the crew member’s training and logic in the actions taken. We are talking about a 140 foot former Coast Guard vessel, cruising at 16 knots on autopilot in heavily trafficked waters. Beyond that, what if the Captain had fallen overboard or was in medical distress? Shouldn’t the crew member have at the very least knocked or pounded on the Captain’s door? And if the Captain didn’t respond, shouldn’t the second in command (a dive master) have been awakened in case the boat needed to be searched or the Captain was incapacitated? Pacific Fleet must have regulations in place that address the chain of command and watch standards.

By mentioning the situation repeatedly to passengers, it would seem the crew member was also questioning their actions after the accident occurred. Luckily there was no loss of life, and no other vessels involved.

This accident has saddened me a great deal. My heart goes out to everyone who lost all their possessions. And for the Pacific Fleet employees (and their families) as there is no longer a ship where they can earn a living. The crew I got to know while at Guadalupe were fantastic people. I hope they are all doing OK.

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